There is an air of excitement as bags are packed and esky's filled with food. It’s the 1960’s and the family pack the Ford XY with enough belongings to see them through their annual summer break to Phillip Island. A frequent drive down the southern coast to Cowes was not unusual for the in laws. Zio Pino and his wife owned a beach bungalow he built for the extended family to gather and spend not only the Christmas and Easter breaks, but also any other long weekends they could get away.
There are many photos shared and happy memories recounted by my husband of times spent on this Island. The food cooked, the trips to nearby farms to buy fresh milk so that they could make their own ricotta; popping down to San Remo to buy freshly caught fish off the boats and the many swimmer crabs caught off the pier.
I suppose it was only natural that today we find ourselves here at our own bungalow in Cowes; our peaceful home away from home nestled among Australian native plants. We fell in love with her light filled open space, high ceilings and of course spectacular and peaceful garden. Here we too will create special memories with family and friends; and hope to share this place with you as well.
It was a mutual decision that she have an Italian name in honour of our heritage so we named her Casa dell’Isola, which translates as house of the island. Here I share only a few photos along with a simple recipe for insalata di mare. A dish using Australian seafood freshly caught and made for our inaugural lunch gathering with family.
Casa dell’Isola is not quite ready yet, but soon we will open her doors to welcome guests, so they too can stay, relax and recharge before setting off to explore this beautiful part of Australia. Phillip Island is an all year-round holiday destination which offers much beauty in flora, fauna and coastal beaches. If you would like to follow her progress, she has her own IG account @casa_dell_isola_phillipisland
Insalata di Mare
This recipe is an adaptation from the March 2013 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller recipe for Insalata di Mare. Due to lack of time, I left out the mussels as they take some time to clean but tripled the quantity of the other ingredients to feed our extended family. I used the preserved lemons I made last winter from my Meyer tree, and we enjoyed this seafood with other cold dishes and a lovely bottle of Blanc de Balance from one of the island's wineries - Purple Hen Vineyard & Wines on a lazy afternoon. The fresh fish was purchased from Bass Strait Direct seafood market in the fishing village of Newhaven just as you enter Phillip Island.
200 ml dry white wine
1 kg mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
12 medium uncooked prawns, peeled and cleaned
2 calamari, cleaned, tubes cut into rings and tentacles reserved
12 scallops, roe off
4 inner celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus leaves reserved, to serve
½ white onion, thinly sliced (optional – I omitted this ingredient)
Preserved lemon dressing:
75 gm (¼ cup) mayonnaise or olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ preserved lemon, rinsed, flesh discarded, rind finely diced
To serve: coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley and lemon wedges
Bring wine to the boil in a large saucepan, add mussels, cover and cook until opened (3-5 minutes). Remove with tongs and set aside, then, when cool enough to handle, remove mussels from shells and transfer to a bowl (discard cooking liquid).
Heat a char-grill pan over high heat, add prawns and turn occasionally until cooked (3-5 minutes). Place in bowl with mussels. Add calamari to pan in batches and turn occasionally until just cooked (2-3 minutes), then transfer to bowl with mussels and prawns, season to taste and set aside. Add scallops to pan and grill, turning once, until medium-rare (30-40 seconds each side), then add to other seafood and mix to combine.
For preserved lemon dressing, whisk mayonnaise, lemon juice and preserved lemon in a bowl to combine and season to taste.
Drizzle preserved lemon dressing over the seafood, add celery, onion and herbs, toss to combine and serve with extra lemon wedges.